Steff Mahan’s story doesn’t exactly follow the narrative Nashville is used to, where a songwriter moves to town and plays for free for years trying to make it big. Mahan actually had a viable career as a writer in Nashville years before she started making music of her own.
“I was a writer for a long time,” Mahan says. “I moved here when I was in my twenties and wrote for other people.”
Even though Mahan always felt she was a writer there was something about the publishing deals and song placements that never really worked for her. “I’d try to write really commercial,” she explains. “But I found I got embarrassed if I have to write a song about a truck. I don’t have a truck, I don’t know about trucks. I try to be really honest. I think people can smell a liar from a mile away.”
After being laid off from a company for which she was the head writer, she took it as a sign. “My partner at the time said, ‘You know, maybe this is the universe’s way of saying it’s time to do a record,’” says Mahan. “I got the money together and did my first record.”
Once the record was made, it was time to sell it, and this meant getting some tour dates on the calendar. “I hit the road for the first time for six weeks. I was gone for Thanksgiving; I was like, ‘I’m going to be so lonely!’ but I wasn’t,” Mahan says with a grin. “I missed home, but I only missed home when I was in the car. When I was on stage I didn’t miss it. I knew it was where I was supposed to be.”
Mahan’s enthusiasm for the road is infectious. It’s clear that touring is where her heart is. “I had almost two hundred dates last year; I’ve met my favorite people on the road,” she says. “I haven’t been on a vacation in forever. Usually vacation means I play a show and take a day off.”
Mahan had been touring in support of her last record, which she described as an angry record. "It needed to get out of my head. I was with the same person for seventeen years and the breakup was so sad. It’s like I woke up one day and I didn’t know what she was having for lunch or where she was going.”
Even though it had been years since her last record of new material was released, Mahan was still touring hard and sharing her songs with as many people as possible. “There are times when people will ask me to do a song that is fifteen years old and I’ve played it to death,” she says. “But I seem to go back to the place I wrote it. There’s a couple songs where I still get teary-eyed if I really think about why the song was written.”
The rough mixes of her new record make it clear she’s headed in a different direction now. She has a new relationship, a new record deal with Century Music Group, and a new outlook. “There’s one song called ‘Best Revenge’ and it says, ‘Living well is your best revenge,’” Mahan says.
It’s obvious this new record is about someone who knows where she’s been. “When you finally like who you are, you have to turn around to everybody and say thank you,” she explains. “That’s the hardest thing in the world, to thank someone who broke your heart, but it made you who you are. It made you stronger and if you like who you are, you have to say thank you. That’s the title cut of the record, ‘Where I’m Coming From.’ It says, ‘If you get to where you’re going and you like who you’ve become, just remember I’m part of where you’re coming from.’”
To premiere the new music, Mahan is playing a rare full-band show on October 5 at 3rd and Lindsley. “My friend Declan McGarry is going to open,” she said. “He’s awesome. He’s really rootsy, super nice. I love to play with people I love. There’s too many talented people and I’m past worrying about if I don’t like you,” she said with a laugh.
After that, Mahan is going to do what she does best: “I’m going to keep touring until I don’t like it anymore,” she says with a huge smile. “Right now, I still like it.”
Steff Mahan plays 3rd and Lindsley October 5. Show starts at 7 p.m. Get tickets here.